Some friends of my cousin and his wife were visiting from 'Down South' (which is darned near everywhere relative to Churchill, but usually refers to southern Manitoba in general and Winnipeg in specific). They had brought their two young children with them, and as has become traditional, were relaxing in Parker & Belinda's cabin down on the Flats. On Tuesday afternoon, the father, his 5 year-old daughter, and four year-old son took out the canoe for a bit of a paddle. The two dogs, Ringo and Maggie, went with them, just as they had when my daughters and niece went out the Saturday before. Everyone wore lifejackets, but it turned out this was insufficient protection from the river when the canoe capsized.
The lifejackets kept the family afloat, but the frigid waters of the Churchill River were estimated to be about 5 degrees Celsius at the time; the same temperature of a cold (not cool) drink you might take from a refrigerator.
I don't know a lot of details, like how Parker and Belinda figured out things had gone so terribly wrong, but possibly by checking with binoculars from the cabin. There is no Coast Guard in Churchill, but somehow, tour operators with Zodiacs were alerted by radio about the people in the water, and sped to their rescue. They got the people out of the river, but the little girl, Danica, later succumbed to hypothermia; her brother Conner, was only saved by being put into a medically induced coma. In addition, Parker and Belinda's beloved border terrier, Ringo, never made it out of the water, but their labradoodle, Maggie, survived by treading water for over 40 minutes.
I don't know these poor parents who lost their daughter, but my heart goes out to them regardless; every mother and father's worst nightmare came to life for them, and now they are trying to balance their sadness at losing Danica with their joy at Conner having been saved.
Because they are family though, I worry most about my cousin and his wife. I can't imagine how they must feel. I know in my heart there is nothing else they could have done, but I also know they will always wonder. Their cabin at The Flats, a scene of so much joy and community, is now tainted by tragedy, but I hope they are able to find peace there again before too long. I'm so grateful that Maggie survived, but even I will miss Ringo, despite only having known him for a couple of weeks over three years; a whip-smart little fellow who loved the water.
Our Fenya is still up there, working with Belinda until November, and she says it is astonishing how quickly and fully the staff all came together for her and Parker, working extra shifts, taking extra responsibilities, and giving them the time and space that they needed.
With all that in my heart last week, I just couldn't find it in myself to complain about the bitter cold on the Churchill River while looking at playful belugas, knowing that same river had taken two lives not a week later, and altered countless others beyond reckoning.